Limited production runs

Debunking Happy 30th anniversary to the Amstrad CPC664!

As for my continuation of the post “Oh that would be *very* difficult! – Part 1”, I’m afraid I seem to have mislaid a document which contains a continuation of this, or perhaps it was deleted by a hacker or Jack Tramiel’s ghost. I thought it was on a desktop PC that I hadn’t used recently, then when I finally plugged it in, I found there was no such document there.

Your correspondent would like to make it perfectly clear at this juncture that he currently is not and never has been a hacker.

Of course, MSX BASIC V2.0 is nothing like Commodore BASIC V2. They have a common ancestor in Microsoft BASIC 1977 version, but Commodore BASIC V2 contains none of the EIGHT YEARS of updates from Microsoft after that.

And there’s a surprise to absolutely nobody, a product released after another product has improvements! In other shock news water is, apparently, wet. That said, it does things like string handling in a similar way so the author’s claim that it’s nothing like Commodore BASIC V2″ (your correspondent’s emphasis) is something of a fib.

Before buying an Amstrad CPC664, I did several months of research into what computer to buy, so I could be sure of what I was getting. I was determined not to get conned again! I paid particular attention to the implementations of BASIC and the sound chips built in. I couldn’t assume that it would ever be possible to upgrade the BASIC or the sound chip.

The irony being of course that Amstrad did indeed upgrade the sound and graphics capabilities of the Amstrad CPC during its commercial lifespan but didn’t modify the BASIC to utilise those features; they added hardware sprites and scrolling, improved the sound and pushed in a massive extension to the colour palette but no BASIC commands were added to Locomotive BASIC to access these features in part because Amstrad’s intention was to keep them locked away from users. The author is suspiciously quiet about Sir Alan Sugar not shelling out to for a BASIC upgrade…

As for getting “conned”, Amstrad Action noted that the machine was only manufactured between May and August of 1985 so was out of production by the time their first issue had gone to print in October! And had Commodore pulled the same trick on the author he would no doubt be straitjacketed an insane asylum by now, screaming Jack Tramiel’s name on the hour every hour and biting the nurses, but Alan Sugar is rather hypocritically spared that treatment.

Luckily, I managed to get the Amstrad CPC664 home before he discovered it didn’t have 128K!

So the author lied… why isn’t that even vaguely surprising, dear reader?

My research told me that the Amstrad CPC hardware was quite superior to the Commodore 64.

“Superior” is of course subjective because the definition really depends on the intended use. The Amstrad CPC’s specifications look good on paper but there are some noticeable caveats that also need to be considered.

It had 27 colours compared to only 16, graphics display modes of 160×200 with 16 colours from a palette of 27, 320×200 with 4 colours from a palette of 27, and 640×200 with 2 colours from a palette of 27

With the very important trade off being that all of these display modes required a truly vast 16K of RAM, 6K more than the C64 at even its most memory hungry and a 320 by 200 pixel display on the C64 can be sixteen colours (so four times the equivalent resolution on the Amstrad CPC) but potentially take a mere 2K. The BBC Micro shares the Motorola CRTC6845 which drives the Amstrad’s display as well, but has some modes that are lighter on RAM which the CPC lacks, making the  newer machine something of a step backwards from the 1981 implementation.

It didn’t have any sprites, but neither did most other computers, and you couldn’t have everything!

Except Amstrad added sprites later so it was, presumably, just an issue of cost which kept them from doing so with the original model. Again, had it been Commodore doing the same thing we’d still be hearing about it from the author thirty years on…

We can probably all see that the author’s particularly weak “argument” that the Amstrad CPC’s lack of hardware sprites somehow wasn’t an inferiority on the grounds that other machines didn’t have them either is merely false logic.

The only computers on the market which did have sprites were Atari which wasn’t very popular in Britain, the dreaded C64, the only recently released MSX which I didn’t know whether or not would ever become popular, Memotech MTX which wasn’t popular, the Tatung Einstein which wasn’t popular and the discontinued Texas Instruments TI99/4A.

Since the author is talking about the popularity of these machines we’ll quickly note that, in the UK market where the author was making his purchase, the C64 was the most popular.

We soon realised that we’d have to order some blank disks from Amstrad, at least for the time being. My Dad phoned them and ordered three or four disks. I had to use one or two of these disks to back up the disks supplied with my CPC664, but the other disks opened a whole new world for me, no longer deprived of using disks because of the extra cost of a separate disk drive.

In the long term, the author and his father will have paid far more out to maintain the Amstrad CPC664 because, whilst C64 disk drives themselves were more expensive if purchased new, the floppy disks were considerably cheaper. By the end of 1986 your correspondent had several hundred floppies and, because C64s were so much more prevalent, was using them on a second hand 1541 disk drive he’d picked up for a mere fifty pounds.

I set to work drawing a portrait in Locomotive BASIC, as well as studying games programming techniques from the book Sensational Games for the Amstrad CPC464.

My Commodore 64 nightmare was over!

The author has previously said that he had plans for programs which he blames the C64 and Jack Tramiel for not reaching fruition, but we have to pause here and note that there’s absolutely no sign of these or indeed other projects maturing after his switch to Alan Sugar’s camp. Come to think of it, what happened to those Atari 8-bit programs he was teasing Atari Age posters with some three years back?! We’ve pondered if the author’s issues were his rather than down to the C64, but he does seem to have a similar track record with other platforms as well…

Since the author’s previous post on the 19th of February 2015, there have been a vast number of new releases for the C64 from amateur programmers, that’s a lot of backroom-developed programs for a machine the author has previously declared to be “a pile of unprogrammable shit”. Your correspondent has just added an automatically updating list of the ten latest C64 releases to this blog’s sidebar, this alone illustrates how wrong the author is without anybody having to comment!

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